Backcountry Essentials: The Winter Cometh

Start planning and study up with this list of recommended reading and resources

POWDER Editor John Stifter and the author, Snowbird patroller Sean Zimmerman-Wall, cutting columns at an avalanche clinic last year. PHOTO: Mike Rogge

POWDER Editor John Stifter and the author, Snowbird patroller Sean Zimmerman-Wall, cutting columns at an avalanche clinic last year. PHOTO: Mike Rogge

December is upon us and the Northern Hemisphere is turning fifty shades of white. Resorts are clinging to their ribbons of manmade snow and the backcountry is still a collage of brush, rocks, and facets. To be honest, it is the perfect time to get educated on the intricacies of backcountry travel and familiarize yourself with the ever present “Human Factor.” This is the time to be pouring over maps, gazing upon the slopes you’d like to ski, and chatting with your group of comrades you hope to shred with this season.

Here are a few resources to investigate while you wait for the snow to come:

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1. Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. By Bruce Tremper
This comprehensive and easy-to-read manual of safe travel and avalanche avoidance is the modern day textbook of backcountry enthusiasts. A wide array of topics from terrain management, weather observations, and rescue techniques help you hone your snow senses and prepare your psyche for the coming challenges.

2. Avalanche.org
A national database of every avalanche center in the USA, as well as requisite stats on avalanche accidents and occurrences. This site is a clearinghouse of valuable information and it should be on your browser’s bookmarks page.

3. Noaa.gov
You can’t control the weather, but this website will at least give you an idea of what you are going up against when you step into the mountains—winds, temperatures, all those factors you should be monitoring. Go beyond the 10-day forecast and read the forecast discussions. At first it’ll seem like incomprehensible jargon, but once you get the hang of the weather-speak, you’ll know a lot more about that storm coming in than you’d ever find by watching Local On The Eights. If you live in a ski town, check out OpenSnow.com, too, for a forecast written by skiers, for skiers.

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4. The Avalanche Hunters. By Montgomery Atwater
This is a historical and entertaining account of the Western Hemisphere’s first avalanche forecaster. A good portion of today’s snow science, meteorology, and avalanche control work is based on Atwater’s trials and tribulations at Alta.

5. The Safe Zone Avalanche Clinic
Get organized and get educated. This three-day clinic hosted by POWDER at Snowbird Ski Resort in Salt Lake City, Utah will provide you and your buddies with a solid foundation for approaching the coming winter in the backcountry. It will focus on decisionmaking, safe travel, and hazardous attitudes. Led by Snowbird Supervisor of Snow Safety and President of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue Dean Cardinale, and other Snowbird ski patrollers and avalanche professionals, the clinic is open to the public.

Can’t make this clinic? Find another one hosted by the American Avalanche Institute or AIARE.

  Last week’s backcountry tip: What a rescue looks like.

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